Saturday, January 8, 2011

Why is the game only playable online?

During the time since launch some people have expressed concerns over the fact that the game is only playable online, with no downloadable version being offered. We'd like to take the moment to address these concerns and outline some of the reasons why we've chosen this model.

As gamers, we think the pros of this model outweigh the cons:

Play on any OS (Mac, PC, Linux). Play from any computer (home or work) with cloud saved inventory, settings and progress. No install required: play instantly, without the game taking up any of your precious hard drive space. Patching is automatic. We can continuously add things like language support down the line.

We also consider this game to be a continuously supported service, not a static product that we're done with and then just send out into the world never to hear from again. Distributing it online allows us to check statistics for how people play and adjust the game accordingly. If enough people try to solve a puzzle in a way we didn't think of, or can't solve it at all, we can actually see that and act accordingly. This helps us make the game better.

Another factor is Piracy. We're only two people making this game and we don't have the financial backing of a publisher. We looked a lot at what had happened to Machinarium. They released the game as a single downloadable file and unfortunately got heavily pirated because of that. According to their estimation about 85-95% of the played copies where pirated versions, and though we're quite liberal about piracy, those numbers sound frankly depressing. That's was a situation we wanted to avoid. We hope you understand.

We don't limit how many computers you can play the game on or how many times you can install the game, which to us differentiates us from intrusive DRM-models.

The game requires an Internet connection because of the cloud save system and because the assets (things like background music and the rooms) are discreetly streamed in the background to minimize loading times. Without a connection they would simply fail to load. That raises the accessibility bar a bit, but players without Internet access are getting fewer and fewer every day.

These are some of the main reasons we went with online distribution. Is it too intrusive? Do you fear you might lose your game?

Feel free to voice your opinion in the comments.


 - a


  1. Ideally, I prefer to have a physical game over a digital one (online only or as a download). There's just something about having a tangible object in my hands, with nice to look at box art, that appeals to me.

    But the benefits of digital distribution - especially online distribution where everything is stored in the cloud - outweigh this nostalgia. (That, and we don't have much floor space left for physical media!)

    With a downloadable file, there's always the risk that the download link will expire or that the file on my hard disk will be lost (both of which happened to my copy of Puzzle Bots, but Dave Gilbert at WadgetEyeGames was kind enough to send me a new link).

    There are the same risks in a purely online model too. On the one hand, the developer hosting the game is taking responsibility for keeping your files safe, but on the other, that developer may one day stop providing the service (they may have no choice, financially). At the end of the day, there has to be trust and good communication between both parties. Just look at GOG's little publicity stunt as an example of how *not* to go about it.

    I'm happy to say I trust you guys to provide the game online for as long as you are able. Of course, I wouldn't expect the game to be available indefinitely - and even a digital download will eventually become obsolete through hardware changes -but, for the reasons you've mentioned - distribution costs, piracy, updates - online distribution is the right approach in my opinion.

    Another major benefit for me is the cross-platform compatibility. I now use a Mac after using PCs for years and even still it's frustrating when some games - especially digital downloads - only come as a Windows EXE.

    Thankfully the indie scene is pretty good for cross-platform support, and there are lots of options for running Windows programs on a Mac, but for the average user to simply be able to open their web browser and play a proper, professional game is a huge step forward. Combined with the popularity of episodic delivery, it's very appealing to gamers and non-gamers in my opinion and can only be considered a Good Thing.

    There is an accessibility issue for users without internet access, but more and more people are getting online these days and the bandwidth requirements needn't be unreasonable. Also, people seem more than happy to let Steam control their gaming life - in some cases ignoring games that aren't on Steam which is a real shame - and that requires a download. As a consumer, pulling up TDM in your web browser couldn't be simpler, and as a developer, I think there's the potential to reach a wider audience than traditional gamers. I personally recommended the game to friends and family over Christmas;-)

    Congratulations again on releasing the first two chapters and here's wishing you both well in 2011=)

  2. You should make a "premium pack" of some kind, downloadable, with extra contents like screenshots, author's comments, videos of the "making of", and fan stuff in general.
    And maybe make it available only to those who buy one or more chapters. Or add some of this stuff to every chapter, so that the player buys a chapter, plus the "behind the scenes/making of" of that chapter.
    However, I personally like the "web based" idea. I don't like installing things, with all the problems of incompatibility, OS (Vista teaches...) and whatever.
    Probably the game won't be available forever, and maybe some kind of installation will be necessary, someday. Maybe. :P

  3. I think it's fine. I mean you could easily modify the code to load assets from disk and bundle it up with Zinc for some added security, or even wrap it up with an AIR 2 container app (maybe that's an option using the new licensing stuff?). Either way I'm happy to play it online from any machine (not tried it from an Android tablet yet though), as long as you provide a downloadable version in several years if you decide to take the online version down.

  4. This way of distributing the game is fine. As long as my account and this website remain accessible for the foreseeable future.

    But maybe you could go the Machinarium way and release a physical collector's edition once the full game has reached a more or less stable state. I can already imagine the pretty box, the artbook, the making of, the soundtrack, the nifty exclusive items... I think The Dream Machine would really benefit from the "collector's edition" treatment.

  5. I am happy with the current model, but would like it if you were to release a downloadable version after all the episodes have been released and reached a state where they will probably not be modified any further.

  6. Well I think that online distribution is fine at this stage of the game. Of course as a traditional gamer I would be glad to see a boxed version as soon as its finished (I'm not a big fan of digital versions and plain impersonal downloads) and why not, a collector's edition as many said, as it fits well on your masterpiece. :)

    Wish you the best.

  7. the old model is so outdated and unnecessary, the last thing i need are more cd piles around the house and filling the earth with plastic. your internet-only model for this type of game is perfect; pirates and folks without internet connection don't like the new model, but i couldn't care less about a pirates feelings and the folks without internet don't know this game exists anyway. great game, i'm buying it.

  8. My biggest concern is that one day the game will no longer be supported and it will completely dissappear from my life. As long as you promise to make the game downloadable for everybody who bought it if you ever have to stop supporting it for some reason, I'm satisfied.

    It would be nice if at that point you also made it free as in speech software.

    Even these days I do play games offline on my laptop and whatnot, so the disadvantages aren't non existent. But I like the advantages a lot, and I appreciate that piracy's a real issue. Maybe in the coming years society will figure something out.

  9. Guys, the game is great, and paying that for all the effort you are putting in it... is just worth it. It is a good idea to sell later on a full version with voices and all, maybe you will have so much money by that time that you can hire really cool voice characters...hahaha.... It has been great going back to the Lucas Arts times... for me the greatest point and click game of all times is still Grim Fandango, however you are doing a really good job, taking in count you are a team of 2 and they are Lucas Arts, you should be proud of what you are doing....

  10. ehm... Grim Fandango isn't point'n click, Roby but nevermind :p

  11. It doesn't bother me that the game is online only. I don't feel like I've bought the game, but rather a pass to play the game online. That's not a bad thing, but a noteworthy difference. I bought it fully aware that I'm essentially paying for an experience, and that this game could lose support eventually.

    For a game like this, I don't really mind a purchase of this kind. The cloud saves don't really seem like a feature I'll make use of since I'll always play from the same computer. As an anti-piracy tool, this model makes a lot of sense though.

    If this model of distribution works for the rest of your fans like it did for me, then there is a lot to be gained by thwarting piracy here. While not all would-be pirates are going to purchase the game now that it can't be distributed, it seems that this system could result in more purchases. I'm all for creators being paid for their work (and in turn, hopefully creating more!)

    Just played through chapters 1 & 2, excited for the next part!

  12. Hi!

    I totally understand the way you release your game. I´m also working with a little team on a little game ( - the site should be updated - pretty old screenshots!!!) And we decide to release it on xbox live and not for PC. And the reasons are mostly identical.
    Sure I prefer to have the game for myself at home to play it whenever I want. Sometimes I play the good old "Day Of The Tentacle" :)
    Someday you won´t have a lot of purchasers anymore. So I think there´s always a chance to make it downloadable. But, as I said, I totally understand why that´s not the case now!

    So, good look. And I´m looking foward to chapter 3!


  13. Good "look"? :-D
    Well... the game looks fantastic.
    But I thought more of "LUCK"... ;-)

  14. I get all my games online these days, but I do appreciate Steam's offline mode, especially for adventure games and the like. I end up travelling quite frequently and find adventure games are a good, quiet way to spend a day at airports and on planes - and they usually run just fine on my netbook (which has problems even with Super Meat Boy).

    That would be my main motivation for also having a downloadable version - online-only restricts my playtime largely to my desktop.

  15. I must admit that I'm currently not sure about buying the game because of this. I'd really, really love to play the game, because it simply looks great and it recently got a fantastic review over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but I have to admit that I'm a bit of a materialist sometimes. I need something at least DIGITALLY tangible when I buy things. Because the game is being streamed through my browser, I don't really OWN the game. This also means that there will be a day when I simply won't be able to play the game any more. I'm convinced that you guys will keep the game up to date for as long as it's necessary, but there will be a day (perhaps ten years from now) where the game simply won't be available any more online.

    Now, I'll probably buy the game anyway. I'll sleep on it and I'm sure I'll buy it in the coming days when I've come to terms with the restrictions. But it's given me more hesitance that it should have. My advice? There will be a time (I assume after the five chapters of the game are released) when there won't a whole lot of commercial interest in the game any more. Most people who were interested in the game in the first place will have bought it, and pirates will have moved on to another game. Furthermore, you'll have gathered enough data on player behaviour to made alterations to the game (or to future games). This might be the right time to decide to release the game as a standalone for future purchasers and those who have already bought the game. The impact piracy will have will probably be minimal, and purchasers will be happy that get to keep forever. And perhaps you'll be able to convince people who were on the fence before to buy it after all.

    I always back up my indie games (and Steam/GamersGate backups) to my 2 TB external hard drive, so I basically have them forever, so I can rest assured that the games will always be mine.

  16. If I can be totally (even brutally) honest... I must admit that I'm not keen of this model at all.

    Back in 2006-2007 I used to play this game called Gumshoe Online, which worked pretty much like yours: It was an online web-based game, the first episode was free to play, the rest of the episodes became available after paying a certain fee for each one.

    I liked the game very much, so I bought all the other available episodes right away. I was halfway completion when one fateful day the site went offline, and it has remained that way ever since. No refunds, no "hey, we are sorry that we had to close the site" e-mails, no nothing, and worst of all, I'll never get to know how it ended, or even be able to play it again. :(

    I know that you have to protect your business and I understand the convenience of using this model so you can mine data from the users' playtime to further improve the game, and of course I'll continue to buy the remaining episodes as you release them whatever you do because I *LOVE* this game and such love entitles me to support it, but... once all the episodes are done, the game is as polished as it can be, and the proverbial cow is milked for all it's worth, I wouldn't mind (even if I have to pay for it again) an offline version.

  17. The only issue I have is that internet connections do go down - like when our router broke the other day and being Sky customers we had to wait for them to send us another one.

    But almost everything is online now and I can see the advantages for us and for you of having the game online. It's a great game!

  18. Yeah, I wanted to buy these as a surprise present for my girlfriend, since she's in love with the art style, but we live in a place where an internet connection is, at best, inconsistent. It'd be awesome if you could put the finished episodes on Steam or something.

  19. I think this game is great. And play it only online make it better when you can play from any computer where ever you are in the world.
    Dont do this as a download version stick to what you think from start only online. I can't wait for next chapter to come.